We recently wrote about how hydrogen production is a costly endeavour for our water supply, as well as the electrical energy needed in producing it, effectively making traditional methods of manufacture a near-impossibility. In steps Bruce E. Logan, professor of enivronmental engineering at Penn State.
Logan suggests the use of microbial fuel cells run on cellulose to produce the hydrogen from natural processes rather than converting it to ethanol, a costly endeavour. By using bacteria in a microbial cell with acetic acid (vinegar), a common acid produced by the fermentation of cellulose or glucose, electricity, about 0.3 volts worth, was produced. The bacteria consumed the acid, releasing electrons and protons which were captured by a cathode and annode rig, which allowed for current. When they added 0.2 volts into the mix, hydrogen gas was produced. Admittedly the amounts produced were very small, but the efficiencies here are large and they are quick to point out that "this process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process."
On top of that, they are seeing between 23-56% efficiency at extracting hydrogen from sugar-based crops, which, being that the technology is new, is impressive given that conventional hydrogen production methods are only at 70% efficiency, with little likelihood of increasing further. Logan is also developing systems to harness bacteria-produced electricity directly from animal wastewater and further using the byproducts to generate even more energy.
Given that the typical hydrogen economy has, until now, been based on massive consumption of (likely) dirty electricity, this new work may actually make hydrogen part of a larger sustainable future.
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